New York City lifts capacity requirement for outdoor graduation ceremonies

The Hassebroek family prepares for the end of the school year and digital graduation in Brooklyn
Every New York City public school student and staff member would need to wear masks in the 2020-21 school year under a school reopening plan that City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced on July 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs)

New York City schools can now host outdoor graduations without limiting the number of attendees due in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Department of Education officials announced. 

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo lifted many of New York state’s COVID health and safety restrictions after the state reported 70% of New York adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Lifted restrictions include state capacity limits for businesses, social distancing requirements, health screens, cleaning and disinfecting protocols as well as contact tracing efforts while federal mandates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on schools, public settings and health care facilities will remain in place. 

“That’s not to say that 70% is the end, we want to do better than 70% but it is an important milestone and we are going to keep pushing to do more,’ said Cuomo. “It’s a testament to the people of the state of New York.”

In response, the New York City Department of Education issued updated graduation guidelines stating schools could hold outdoor ceremonies without capacity requirements as long as attendees keep six feet apart, wear face masks and health screens are used at the venue. 

Health and safety guidelines for indoor ceremonies including capacity limits will continue to be required, DOE officials said. Previously, New York state allowed high schools to host graduations indoors and outdoors with some limitations depending on their size.

Outdoor ceremonies with over 500 people were capped at 20% venue capacity and attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result. Meanwhile, ceremonies with between 200 to 500 guests were limited to 33% venue capacity and, again proof of vaccination or negative COVID test requirements while outdoor ceremonies with 200 or fewer guests had to abide by a 50% venue capacity rule.